I know everyone in Melbourne has been suffering from an early Summer, a heat wave that can only be satiated with icy poles, trips to the pool and ginger beer, but where I am it actually snowed the other day. Real life snow in a real life city. For someone who grew up in sub-tropical rainforest with carpet snakes in the roof, pouring rain, mangos and oppressive humidity, this was quite exciting. So forgive me for writing a winter-y post. I want so very much to be warm and sticky date pudding is the perfect comfort food. I mean, it has a hot, buttery, sugary sauce poured over it.
Sticky date pudding is a crowd pleaser, it’s sweet and rich. (It is scary how much butter and cream goes into the syrup.) And really, it’s a store cupboard cake, as long as you have dates in the pantry, the rest is very basic.
When I’d just moved to Melbourne I found myself so ill equipped for the short grey days of winter. I didn’t know if I could stand the thought of living in a city where the rain misted from the sky all day for months. At this time Sarah lived in one of those double terrace houses with the garden fronts that step down to the road and she had a backyard so huge you could get lost in it. It’s the type of house that is getting rarer and rarer in the inner city. It had a towering date palm – it looked tropical even if it didn’t feel tropical – a plum, lemon, and a pomegranate tree. Sometimes we climbed the roof and had tea up there looking over the flat Melbourne skyline.
In this house Sarah had a very long dining room, two tables pushed together and the beginnings of a mismatched, vintage crockery collection. She had a series of huge dinner parties with far too many people squashed around the tables on broken chairs with pillows on them to cover the holes in the cloth. Everyone drank too much wine – Sarah’s rule is a bottle a person – and talked a whole lot of trash.
I remember eating sticky date pudding from a Johnston plate and thinking that maybe the misting rain and freezing cold wasn’t so bad if I got to share it with all these beautiful people. When you move to a new city those first months are like the first days of school. The people you meet stick. The days have a feel of terrifying importance to them. I’m still eating and drinking with the people I sat around that table with, five years later.
I’m escaping this Northern European winter and coming home for summer, but first I’m going to eat sticky date pudding and walk around in my giant coat, my breath steaming, in a city that is slowly freezing. But put a ginger beer on ice for me, please.
Sticky Toffee Pudding
The Cook’s Companion, Stephanie Alexander
170g dates, stoned and chopped
1 tsp bicarbonate soda
300ml boiling water
60g unsalted butter
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 free-range eggs
170g self raising flour
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
400g brown sugar
1 cup pure cream
250g unsalted butter
1 vanilla bean, split
Preheat oven at 180C and butter an 18 cm square cake tin. Mix dates and bicarb soda in a bowl and cover with boiling water, leaving to stand while you continue. Cream the butter and sugar, then add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each. Fold in flour gently, then stir in date mixture and vanilla gently. Pour into prepared tin and bake in the centre of the oven for 30-40mins or until springs back in the middle, pulls away from the edges and a tester comes out clean.
To make the sauce, bring all the ingredients to the boil, reduce heat and let simmer for 5 mins. Remove the vanilla bean and pour a little sauce on the cooked pudding and return to the oven for a minute to let it soak in.
Serve with extra sauce and cream/ice cream.